Youth worker Michael Anthony Stewart, who is accused of manslaughter in relation to the drowning death of a 14-year-old boy who was in his care, told a jury Wednesday that he not tried to help the boy because he could not swim.
Stewart, who is on trial along with colleague Larry Levers, described to a jury the events that led up to Risco Batten’s death in the water in South Sound in November 2015.
Taking the stand on Wednesday morning to give evidence, Stewart told the jury he came to Cayman in 1991 as a high school teacher. Shortly after, he went on to work for the CAYS Foundation, where he became a youth worker and was eventually promoted to supervisor, and was relocated to the Bonaventure Boys Home.
The home is a government-owned facility tasked with taking care of youth deemed to be in need of care.
Stewart, together with Levers who was also employed at the boys home, took a group of boys on a fishing excursion on 29 Nov. 2015. The plan was to fish off the ironshore near the Cayman Turtle Centre in West Bay. However, rough weather forced them to relocate.
“At round 10am, we went to fish between Burger King and Reflections on the waterfront [in George Town],” said Stewart. “We caught three fish, but the weather got rough and it started to rain so we moved onto Paradise [restaurant] on the waterfront. We were there for about 15 minutes but left because we didn’t get any bites.”
Stewart said the group then moved to South Sound, where the boys resumed fishing. However, this time, they ventured into the water.
When Stewart’s attorney, Paul Keleher, QC, asked why the boys were allowed to enter the water to fish, Stewart responded that he had not thought any danger could come of it because he had seen many people do it.
“It was not uncommon to see individuals across the Cayman Islands fishing in the water,” said Stewart.
The jury heard that the boys went about 45 feet out from shore and began to separate while fishing.
“They were in about waist-deep water, if that much,” Stewart said. “Prior to them entering, I had inspected the area and could see no visible signs of danger. Later, the water became choppy, so I advised them to come back to shore.”
Stewart said he noticed Batten was farther out than the rest of the boys and at that time the water had reached his chest.
“I did not enter the water because I was not confident of my swimming abilities,” Stewart said. “I was confident that he [Batten] would have been able to make it back to shore. However, I told Mr. Larry to call the police out of an abundance of caution. In my thinking, I knew my limitations.”
Stewart told the jury neither men knew the exact location of where they were at the time, and therefore they had trouble trying to give police directions.
“Mr. Larry told me to go to the road, and wait for the police, so I did,” said Stewart. “When I left, I could still see Batten’s head was above the water.”
Stewart told the jury that his supervisor knew that he could not swim.
“She was aware of my inability to swim,” he said. “She told me that it would be good if I learnt to swim.”
Stewart and Levers are facing charges of manslaughter and cruelty to a child. Batten drowned after encountering difficulties while in the water.
The prosecution claims both men failed to exercise a duty of care by taking the children to the location which is known for its strong currents.
Both men deny the charges and the trial continues.